Pizza and Politics: Political participation in polarizing times


Jared Barton

Dr. Nancy Thomas spoke at the Community Engagement Center about student political participation Wednesday
Dr. Nancy Thomas spoke at the Community Engagement Center about student political participation Wednesday. Photo by Jared Barton/the Gateway

Last Wednesday, Nancy Thomas, Ph.D., from Tufts University, gave the keynote speech to a piece of the Pizza and Politics series, regarding the prevalence and importance of political participation among college-aged voters in this day and age.

Thomas began by having those present choose an adjective to describe their feelings toward the 2020 election with their name and discipline. She did this, she said, as an icebreaker and discussion tool.

She encouraged attendees to consider voting time as more of a season than a day or week, emphasizing that voting should be more fun and easy to get younger representation. Younger voters are important, and Thomas said it could improve if those present changed their view of their role in the process.

“What I would encourage you to think of yourselves as community organizers, not voter mobilizers,” Thomas said.

In emphasizing the importance of college-aged voter participation, she told the story of the voter ID scandal in Wisconsin earlier this year, in which many Wisconsin college students were denied voting abilities based on the nature of their student identifications.

In the Wisconsin case, student IDs were required to have a photo, signature, date of issue and date of expiry within a certain time frame. These ramifications are meant to show proof of residency, which student advocates argued was implied by their enrollment in the school.

UNO thankfully doesn’t have anything of such caliber and, in fact, has an excellent record for student voting participation, with student involvement rates climbing from approximately 14% to almost 48% in four years. The group was asked how they could make voting easier, more equitable or more fun. Voting closer to campus, alternative voting methods and the like were suggested.

Overall, the event was focused on getting college students involved in the democratic process while in college. Being a student at UNO makes many students citizens of Nebraska for voting purposes and, as such, allows them a vote here.

Student senator for the College of Fine Arts and Media Chris Brady attended the event.

“I certainly feel a home community around this campus, and I think this is a campus that is consistently engaged both within the college environment and the political climate,” Brady said. “I think that’s been the nature of, not just UNO, but the city of Omaha for quite some time.”

Dalton Meister, another attendee and member of both the Political Learning and Engagement Coalition and the Voter Engagement Focus Group at UNO, said the biggest issue these events are meant to tackle is the bigger impact students have as voters, and ways to get them involved regardless of party or political alignment.

“All of these things contribute to our ability to enhance the state of our society,” Meister said. “Some of that is political discourse and discussion, and not necessarily partisan discourse and discussion.”